BOOK: The Extreme Life of the Sea

While I post about a lot of history books, sometimes it’s fun to dig into a simple popular science book, such as this new title:

Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi, The Extreme Life of the Sea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 256 pp.

The ocean teems with life that thrives under difficult situations in unusual environments. The Extreme Life of the Sea takes readers to the absolute limits of the ocean world–the fastest and deepest, the hottest and oldest creatures of the oceans. It dives into the icy Arctic and boiling hydrothermal vents–and exposes the eternal darkness of the deepest undersea trenches–to show how marine life thrives against the odds. This thrilling book brings to life the sea’s most extreme species, and tells their stories as characters in the drama of the oceans. Coauthored by Stephen Palumbi, one of today’s leading marine scientists, The Extreme Life of the Sea tells the unforgettable tales of some of the most marvelous life forms on Earth, and the challenges they overcome to survive. Modern science and a fluid narrative style give every reader a deep look at the lives of these species.

The Extreme Life of the Sea shows you the world’s oldest living species. It describes how flying fish strain to escape their predators, how predatory deep-sea fish use red searchlights only they can see to find and attack food, and how, at the end of her life, a mother octopus dedicates herself to raising her batch of young. This wide-ranging and highly accessible book also shows how ocean adaptations can inspire innovative commercial products–such as fan blades modeled on the flippers of humpback whales–and how future extremes created by human changes to the oceans might push some of these amazing species over the edge.


Update on “A History of the Ecological Sciences”

Over two-and-a-half years ago I posted the links to a series of articles in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America: “A History of the Ecological Sciences.” Then there were 27 installments, all by Frank N. Egerton, and now he’s up to #36 (Update: I added #37-42 on July 30, 2012):

1. A History of the Ecological Sciences. Early Greek Origins. Volume 82(1): 93–97. January 2001

2. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 2: Aristotle and Theophrastos. Volume 82(2):149–152. April 2001

3. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 3: Hellenistic Natural History. Volume 82(3):201–205. July 2001

4. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 4: Roman Natural History. Volume 82(4):243–246. October 2001

5. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 5: Byzantine Natural History. Volume 83(1):89–94. January 2002

6. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 6: Arabic Language Science—Origins and Zoological Writings. Volume 83(2):142–146. April 2002

7. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 7: Arabic Language Science—Botany, Geography, and Decline. Volume 83(4):261–266. October 2002

8. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 8: Fredrick II of Hohenstaufen: Amateur Avian Ecologist and Behaviorist. Volume 84(1):40–44. January 2003

9. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 9: Albertus Magnus, a Scholastic Naturalist. Volume 84(2):87–91. April 2003

10. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 10: Botany During the Renaissance and the Beginnings of the Scientific Revolution. Volume 84(3):130–137. July 2003

11. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 11: Emergence of Vertebrate Zoology During the 1500s. Volume 84(4):206–212. October 2003

12. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 12: Invertebrate Zoology and Parasitology During the 1500s. Volume 85(1):27–31. January 2004

13. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 13: Broadening Science in Italy and England, 1600–1650. Volume 85(3):110–119. July 2004

14. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 14: Plant Growth Studies in the 1600s. Volume 85(4):208–213. October 2004

15. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 15: The Precocious Origins of Human and Animal Demography and Statistics in the 1600s. Volume 86(1):32–38. January 2005

16. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 16: Robert Hooke and the Royal Society of London. Volume 86(2):93–101. April 2005

17. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 17: Invertebrate Zoology and Parasitology During the 1600s. Volume 86(3):133–144. July 2005

18. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 18: John Ray and His Associates Francis Willughby and William Derham. Volume 86(4):301–313. October 2005

19. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 19: Leeuwenhoek’s Microscopic Natural History. Volume 87(1):47–58. January 2006

20. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 20: Richard Bradley, Entrepreneurial Naturalist. Volume 87(2):117–127. April 2006

21. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 21: Réaumur and His History of Insects. Volume 87(3):212–224. July 2006

22. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 22: Early European Naturalists in Eastern North America. Volume 87(4):341–356. October 2006

23. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 23: Linnaeus and the Economy of Nature. Volume 88(1):72–88. January 2007

24. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 24: Buffon and Environmental Influences on Animals. Volume 88(2):146–159. April 2007

25. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 25:American Naturalists Explore Eastern North America: John and William Bartram. Volume 88(3):253–268. July 2007

26. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 26. Gilbert White, Naturalist Extrordinaire. Volume 88(4):385–398. October 2007.

27. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 27: Naturalists Explore Russia and the North Pacific During the 1700s. Volume 89(1):39–60. January 2008

28. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 28: Plant Growth Studies During the 1700s. Volume 89(2);159–175. April 2008

29. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 29: Plant Disease Studies During the 1700s. Volume 89(3). July 2008

30. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 30: Invertebrate Zoology and Parasitology During the 1700s. Volume 89(4). October 2008.

31. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 31: Studies of Animal Populations During the 1700s. Volume 90(2). April 2009.

32. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 32: Humboldt, Nature’s Geographer. Volume 90(3). July 2009.

33. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 33: Naturalists Explore North America, mid-1780s–mid-1820s. Volume 90(4). October 2009.

34. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 34: A Changing Economy of Nature.Volume 91(1). January 2009.

35. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 35: The Beginnings of British Marine Biology: Edward Forbes and Philip Gosse. Volume 91(2). April 2010.

36. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 36: Hewett Watson, Plant Geographer and Evolutionist. Volume 91(3). July 2010.

37. A History of Ecological Sciences, Part 37: Charles Darwin’s Voyage on the Beagle. Volume91(4), October 2010.

38a. A History of Ecological Sciences, Part 38A: Naturalists Explore North America, mid-1820s to about 1840. Volume 92(1), January 2011.

38b. A History of Ecological Sciences, Part 38B: Naturalists Explore North America, 1838–1850s. Volume 92(2), April 2011.

39. A History of Ecological Sciences, Part 39: Henry David Thoreau, Ecologist. Volume 92(3), July 2011.

40. A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 40: Darwin’s Evolutionary Ecology. Volume 92(4), October 2011.

41. A History of Ecological Sciences, Part 41: Victorian Naturalists in Amazonia—Wallace, Bates, Spruce. Volume 93(1), January 2012.

42. A History of Ecological Sciences, Part 42: Victorian Naturalists Abroad—Hooker, Huxley, Wallace. Volume 93(2), April 2012.

DISS: Coral reef formation and the sciences of earth, life, and sea, c. 1770-1952

Readers of this blog might like to know about the following recent PhD dissertation, by Alistair Sponsel, now with the Darwin Correspondence Project’s office at Harvard:

Coral reef formation and the sciences of earth, life, and sea, c. 1770-1952

Alistair W. Sponsel, Ph.D., Princeton University, 2009, 498 pages

Abstract I argue that the search for a generally-applicable theory of coral reef formation began in the 1770s and that the pursuit of this type of explanation continued to orient reef research until 1952. The most influential (and still most famous) of these theories was the one proposed by Charles Darwin after the voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836), drawing on his knowledge of hydrography and the work of Alexander von Humboldt. I examine the sources and arguments of this and alternative theories, up to the moment when, by general consensus, Darwin’s theory was proved correct by deep drilling on the atoll of Eniwetok [now Enewetak] in 1952. I interpret the Eniwetok drilling not as a straightforward proof of Darwin’s theory, however, but as the moment when the principle that a single theory would explain all reefs was decisively undermined.

I show that reefs could not easily be classified by the categories of animal, vegetable and mineral, and living and fossil, that oriented much of the study of science, and use my long-term case study to examine the arrangements and re-arrangements of scientific disciplines with respect to these categories. By examining the different practical approaches to studying reef formation, moreover, I show how new “ways of knowing” were integrated with older ones in a continuous tradition of inquiry.

This dissertation analyzes the theories of reef and atoll formation presented by Johann Reinhold Forster on Captain James Cook’s second Pacific voyage, Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, James Dwight Dana of the United States Exploring Expedition, John Murray of the British Challenger expedition, and Americans Alexander Agassiz, Alfred Goldsborough Mayor, Thomas Wayland Vaughan, William Morris Davis, Reginald Aldworth Daly, and many more. The narrative culminates in work done at Bikini Atoll during Operation Crossroads (1946) and the Bikini Scientific Resurvey (1947) by Harry Ladd, Joshua Tracey, Jr., and Roger Revelle, followed by the drilling at Eniwetok. I trace the role of coral reef science in the development and practice of the scientific disciplines of natural history, natural philosophy, zoology, geology, biology, geomorphology, physical geography or physiography, geophysics, and ecology.

BOOK REVIEW: Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

I received this book from the publisher last year, so I am now finally able to put up my review. But I also had to read it for my current graduate class on historical writing, taught by Michael Reidy (my advisor and the author of the book!). And the review:

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History: Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy. By Michael S. Reidy. Chicago, London: Chicago University Press, 2008. xiv + 389 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $40.00 (cloth).

In an essay in William K. Story’s edited volume Scientific Aspects of European Expansion (Varorium, 1996), historian Alan Frost shows how science conducted in the Pacific during European exploration of the late eighteenth century was essentially political in nature. Scientists acted with their respective nations in mind. Michael S. Reidy extends the notion of science for political purposes into the nineteenth century with Tides of History. But while the book’s subtitle, Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy, underscores the connection between advancements in science and the imperial reach of maritime nations (predominantly Britain), Reidy aims for much more than just showing how the British used science to rule the waves. He has other interests in mind, and it is unfortunate that the title of his book misleads the reader of its primary content. Although Reidy does discuss the Admiralty and how tidal science was crucial to military matters, he is more interested in the scientist himself and his role – in particular one giant of science (William Whewell) and plenty of rather unknowns. Even larger still is Reidy’s contribution to a growing field of ocean history, a fresh understanding of history understood through looking at the spaces in between the land that most histories are focused with.

Much of Tides of History details the history of tidal science – of the data collection itself, and the theoretical understanding of the tides (whether or not it was based on data). The narrative of Reidy’s story, told through scientific publications, letters, and the use images (tables and graphs), almost mirrors the flux and reflux of the tides themselves, the ebb and flow of the seas across the globe. Tidal science, and the reasons for studying it, have shifted in importance to various parties through the centuries. Reidy outlines what has gone before, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before focusing on the nineteenth century, the highest period of Britain’s imperial expansion, and the regional and global tide experiments in the mid-1830s.

Reidy is fond of metaphors, and they abound in Tides of History. For example, Whewell “helped transform the spatial scope of science while simultaneously expanding the terrain of the scientist” (p. 240). This spatiality is important to Reidy in showing how Whewell transformed the study of tides into a Humboldtian research program, rather than the temporal nature of previous studies. In contrast to earlier and recent works on Whewell, Reidy shows how this evaluator of science in Britain was much more than just a man interested in the work of scientists, but a premier scientist himself. The study of tides, which held Whewell’s interest for more than two decades, also influenced Whewell’s philosophical contributions to science – how science should be done and who should do it. Despite Whewell’s insistence that only certain persons could be scientists – those who strived for theoretical understanding of phenomena – he recognized the efforts and contributions of the often overlooked figures in history. Data collectors, calculators, and computers, doing monotonous and tedious work with ink, provided crucial information for “scientists” to devise their theories with. By looking closely at the role of these “subordinate labourers,” as Whewell referred to them, Reidy gives us a much needed contribution to the history of science, a bottom-up history in a field which too often stresses the importance of the man of science. There were many men (and women) of science, whether or not they were considered “scientists.”

While Reidy succeeds in relating the study of the tides to those with economic interests in using that knowledge – merchants, traders, etc. – what is missing from Tides of History, despite its secondary role to an understanding of the emerging scientist in the early Victorian period, is how the military aspect of the study of the tides was actually used. Examples of how the Admiralty benefited from tidal knowledge, grounded in particular events (if records exist), would surely benefit an understanding of the importance of the study of the tides, and of the relationship of scientists with the larger society. Another mistake in Tides of History, in my opinion, is in the introduction of self-registering tide gauges in Reidy’s narrative. Through reading the text, we know that data collectors observed and marked down numbers concerning the tides. We do not know, however, if and how they utilized technological instruments in carrying out their tasks. So, the invention of the self-registering tide gauge, which made it possible to record data without the hand of a person, becomes not as exciting a turn in the narrative as if the reader truly understood how earlier “subordinated labourers” collected information about the rise and fall of tides.

Despite these few problems, Tides of History is a valuable contribution to understanding the culture of science in the early Victorian period, a time when the role of scientists was becoming more connected with commerce and government, in helping to ensure Britain’s imperialistic success and reaping rewards from it. Taken with Richard Drayton’s Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (Yale University Press, 2000), Tides of History offers a more complete picture of the relationship between science and society – of the political and economic importance of science and the increasingly important role of the scientist – in the nineteenth century. This is a valuable book for those interested in nineteenth-century science, the history of physical sciences, imperialism, environmental history, and maritime history to have on their shelves.

February 2009 Magazines cover Darwin

Be looking forward to the February issues of Natural History, National Geographic, and Smithsonian.

Natural History contains an article (“Seeing Corals with the Eye of Reason,” not online) by Richard Milner about a rediscovered painting that celebrates Darwin’s view of life. Also, Natural History has their own blog that I didn’t know about, but there’s no RSS for it, factotem: findings and musings from Natural History’s fact checker.

Nat Geo, February 2009

Nat Geo, February 2009

National Geographic will have articles by David Quammen, “Darwin’s First Clues,” and Matt Ridley, “Modern Darwins.”  Also, a video with Quammen and a Darwin quiz.

Smithsonian, Febuary 2009

Smithsonian, Febuary 2009

Smithsonian‘s cover story is on Darwin and Lincoln, with three articles: “Lincoln’s Contested Legacy,” “What Darwin Didn’t Know,” and “Twin Peaks” (on their connection).

Asa Gray born, Edward Forbes died today

Asa Gray was born today in 1810. From Today in Science History:

Asa Gray, Born 18 Nov 1810; died 30 Jan 1888. America’s leading botanist in the mid-19th century, extensively studying North American flora, he did more work than any other botanist to unify the taxonomic knowledge of plants of this region. He was Darwin’s strongest early supporter in the U.S.; in 1857, he was the third scientist to be told of his theory (after Hooker and Lyell). He debated L. Agassiz between 1859 and 1861 on variation and geographic distribution. Gray’s discovery of close affinities between East Asian and North American floras was a key piece of evidence in favor of evolution. Though not fully comfortable with selection, he argued that evolution was compatible with religious belief and slid towards theistic evolutionism. Gray co-authored Flora of North America.

Asa Gray at Lefalophodon
Asa Gray Papers at Harvard University Herbaria
Asa Gray: American Botanist, Friend of Darwin by A. Hunter Dupree
“Charles Darwin and Asa Gray Discuss Teleology and Design” by Sara Joan Miles (American Scientific Affiliation)
Memoir of Asa Gray
Correspondence between Asa Gray and Charles Darwin
Re: Design, a play about the correspondence between Gray and Darwin

And naturalist Edward Forbes died on this day in 1854:

Edward Forbes (Died 18 Nov 1854; born 12 Feb 1815). British naturalist, pioneer in the field of biogeography, who analyzed the distribution of plant and animal life of the British Isles as related to certain geological changes. Forbes is considered by many to be the founder of the science of oceanography and marine biology. He studied the fauna of the Aegean Sea and did much to stimulate interest in marine biology. Unfortunately, he is best known for his “azoic theory” (1843), which stated that marine life did not exist on sea beds at depths over 300 fathoms (1800 feet). This was soon to be disproved, (but the desire to test this hypothesis has led to further exploration until, eventually, no depth has been completely unstudied). He became paleontologist to British Geological Survey in 1844.

Previous posts about Forbes here and here.